Elephants and Gates

 

There is such tremendous freedom in being honest. I’m not referring to “getting too much change back at the cash register” kind of honesty.  I’m talking about that feeling of an elephant standing on your chest, and then you say what you feel or think and the elephant moves a foot off the left lobe of your lung and then you keep telling the truth and finally feel fully relieved of the weight.

We all have these secret truths… these things stuck inside us that feel like the weight of the elephant. We have been taught, either in spoken word or in unspoken cues, that sharing what we really think and feel is not okay. I mean, for real, what the hell will people think of me if they knew that my marriage is difficult, that I speak to my wife unkindly, that my parenting skills are lackluster and that my first thought about people who are different than me is a thought of fear???

Holy shit, how would it feel to be completely honest — and then recognize that we are all the same? It’s the sweet spot of connecting.

Letting the elephant roam free? What a mind-blowing concept. We had dinner with friends last night and this was the nature of our conversation; honest and open, truly and deeply. We discussed the woes of relationships and how our communication styles suck and how being married to the same person for a long time is really difficult.  Towards the end of the date we agreed how refreshing a conversation it was.  It’s comforting to know that we are not alone in how we think, feel, or behave.  For some messed-up reason, we have been led to believe that we are.

It’s agonizing to be on the deserted island of isolation and secrets. It’s painful to think that I am the only one with all these scary truths inside. The elephant moves every time we are able to open that door into the very depths of our being and share it with someone else in a way that we feel safe, supported and loved. Every time we do this, we are silently giving permission to other people to do the same. There is a deep sigh of relief in knowing that we actually aren’t alone, regardless of what our mind wants us to believe.

Be the reason today that someone knows they aren’t alone. Open the gate for the elephant!

Coming Out

I have been attracted to women for as long as I can remember. It came naturally to me, just as naturally as breathing. There wasn’t a time in my life that I actively chose to like women, it simply is who I am.

I do remember thinking this attraction was a terrible thing. Everything about it was awful.  I had my own internal homophobia about being gay. I couldn’t fathom how any of this would look. Even the simple stuff—walking down the street holding hands with my partner—seemed disgusting to me.  I had never been around gay people and the ideas in my mind of spending time with my family and my girlfriend sounded terrifying. I tried with all of my might to talk myself out of it. I was certain I could convince myself to like guys, if I just tried hard enough.  That felt less extreme than accepting who I am.  I went so far as to act on it—I dated a guy and professed my love to him, thinking, “Surely this will do it.”

But dating a man felt as about as exciting to me as lighting myself on fire. There wasn’t an ounce of connection or chemistry. Of course, I liked him as a person and I was desperately trying to convince myself that I loved him, but I didn’t.

The opportunity presented itself to connect with a woman. It was amazing to show up and feel seen and heard. After that validation, there was no way I could fake it again.  It took a year of living with my partner to gather enough courage to even start thinking about telling my family.  As soon as the thought would cross my mind, the fear of their rejection would come over me and I would immediately dismiss the thought of ever telling them.  My plan was to continue to live far away from them and lead separate lives. They never had to know… right? Until the day came that the burden of living inauthentically was too much. I had to say something, no matter the cost.

But how would I go about it? The thought of telling my VERY Catholic family that their daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin was gay was unfathomable. I felt full of shame for being in a relationship with a woman and I was certain that I was going to hell for it. I couldn’t continue the lie even though the prospect of being disowned by my family felt like a noose around my neck. Maybe I was going to hell, but at least I was going to be truthful.

I plotted it out; I would drive from Florida to Vermont.  I would tell my Grandmother first. She was like a second mother to me. I was close to her and there had never been anything that I couldn’t share with her. She always listened and I had never felt judged by her. She would hear my confession, we could discuss it and then she would be by my side when I dropped the bomb on my parents.

So I did it—I drove to Vermont.  I arrived at her house.  I tried to say it and then decided to ask about dinner.  As each moment passed, I could feel the noose around my neck tightening. Opportunities arose for me to say something, and I let each one of them pass. My palms were sweating, I felt nauseous. My entire life was on the line.

Finally: “Gram, I’m gay.”

Her response came without any thought or hesitation, “You are going to hell and don’t you ever tell your father.”

Needless to say, this response was not part of my plan.

I’m not clear on what happened after that other than I left. I had stopped listening to everything after I heard the words: you are going to hell and don’t you ever tell your father. I got myself out of there, drove to my parents’ house full of fear, shame, self-hatred and the terrible reality that what I had sensed would happen all along actually did happen. I was rejected.

Based on that reaction, from the person I thought for sure would support and accept me, I went back into hiding. My shame and self-hatred skyrocketed and so did the drinking and drugs to drown it all away.

If I could tell my 21 year old self something from my perspective today, it would be very simple: It’s OK. It’s absolutely OK to be exactly who you are.  The way people react to you is not about you, it’s all about them and who they are.  Shaming and hating myself will render no peace. Peace is stepping fully into who you are, all of you. Owning who you are and walking through the world from that space is where the peace resides.

 

Getting Sober

On the morning of March 25th, 2003, I came to, still drunk from the night before. Let’s face it, I hadn’t drawn a sober breath in years. But this morning was different.

I had a meeting scheduled with the biggest client I had ever managed to arrange —and I looked and felt like I had been hit by a bus that was moving at 30 mph. My lips were stuck to my teeth from dehydration and it felt like there was hair on them. My head was pounding and there was no chance I could hold down food or water because my stomach felt like a hammock strung between two trees in hurricane force winds. The only coherent thought that came to mind was, I can’t do this anymore. I am killing myself and my physical body is barely able to function.Utterly defeated, the  shame was so heavy I could barely stand with the weight of it. The one person in the world I most wanted to avoid was the person staring back at me in the mirror.

My life had become a selfish mess that was all about me, with little regard for those I loved and cared for. I had crafted a convenient tale that I wasn’t affecting anyone with my drinking, other than myself. I had also convinced myself that I could stop drinking anytime I wanted to. Well, here was my big opportunity to see if I really could. I had tried multiple times before and failed miserably, as in: try to quit drinking today and be back at the bar by 11:00 a.m. on the same day. I was twenty pounds overweight, bloated with a grayish skin tone and barely capable of holding down food or water.  It wasn’t pretty and I felt about two steps from death.

It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life to have those brief moments of honesty with myself and to see and acknowledge the truth. I was an alcoholic, I had become my father—and I was going to die soon if I didn’t change my ways.

 

At that moment, I could have chosen to keep following the path I was on because it felt easier than the prospect of quitting drinking. But I didn’t. I had experienced those moments of honesty with myself, I had seen the truth, and there was no denying it now. For a few moments, I had woken out of the dream state of my life. Right here, this moment was the opportunity.  It didn’t feel like an opportunity, exactly, in the state that I was in. It didn’t look like an opportunity given I was mired in shame and defeat … but it was.

 

In the most unlikely of circumstances, here it was: the chance to change how my story would end. The only thing I had to do was be willing to walk through the door that had been opened for me.  I did. I made the choice and have never looked back since.

 

This is how life works. Things don’t show up in a pretty package with a bow on it. A deep reckoning with the truth is painful and messy but it is so worth it.  We all have this power to intervene on our own behalf and rewrite the ending of our own stories.

Podcast from The Risk Show Live from New York City

Hey guys!  On Tuesday I had the amazing opportunity to share my story in the big leagues.  What an honor to work with such amazing professionals.  It was a tremendous experience and I would love your comments and feedback.  I would also appreciate it if you would take the time to share it.  Thanks so much!

Marcy on The Risk Show: Surrender

Marcy Langlois is one of a kind. She speaks with courage, wisdom and heart about some of the most important aspects of our lives. Her stories of survival and transcendence are unforgettable. I’m truly grateful to have been touched by Marcy’s work.

Kevin Allison, Founder and Producer of The Risk Show

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